Civil War, Colonisation and Taught History

Posted: June 20, 2017 in Governance, Government, Institutions, Leadership
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One may wonder who within the Nigerian Ministry of Education removed History [of West Africa] as a subject from the national academic curriculum several years ago. Many have claimed that it was removed to hide the ‘darkness of the Civil War’ and to quell potential tensions. Has it worked for contemporary Nigeria? We know it has not. The Muslim-dominated North defeated Christian East in a very bloody and savage conflict and they want people to ‘forget’ by robbing people of a major component of their educational freedom? History is ultimately a reflection of the handwork of leaders and they know it.The consequences and outcomes of major or protracted war necessarily becomes part of the cultural and intellectual heritage of both victors and vanquished. The human and social cost of war is too huge and deep to forget or ignore. Reconciliation and forgiveness are other challenges that can neither be achieved by forgetting nor ignoring the aftermath of war. Trauma is far more memorable than pleasure and generations are able to bear the wounds of their forebears as if fresh. Removing incidences of war from the classroom is a non-solution for peace that would be easily defeated in the age mobile technology.

It would be hard to find a good Igbo writer who would not write finely about the “pains and tragedies” that emerged out of the Civil War. Otherwise, it will usually take a non-Igbo non-Eastern writer to pen great stories of the Civil War that portray “glory and heroism”. Such sensibilities are unalienable parts of culturally acquired heritage. You cannot expunge such by manipulating institutions, educational or otherwise, since it is to them [victor or vanquished] as is their language, traditions, norms, taboos, music, art, diet and idiosyncrasies.

I am not trying to be indulgent here. In my first term in primary school in London, England my class was taken on an excursion trip to Hastings, the battle site of famous invasion for the Norman victory of William the Conqueror. In later years still in primary I went on excursion trips to Marston Moor, the site of the First English Civil War and Norfolk [Norwich], the site of Saxon and Viking invasions of England. We as very young pupils did not just visit these places with teachers and tour guides, we saw BBC Educational programmes about these places before we on the trips. Such histories are still taught and explored like that today. How has British war history as taught in schools caused conflicts or tensions in present day Britain? Another country and an unfair comparison?

The Civil War is not the only event to happen in West Africa. History is really focused on conquest, emergence and change and West Africa has an abundance of such events in its timeline. I was shocked when a rising Nigerian intellectual star was arguing with Prof George Ayittey on Twitter about the governance of pre-colonial West African and made some poor claims. A schoolmate of his later told me that in their time, history was not taught in schools. An excellent mind betrayed by deficient curriculum, perhaps.

Another possible reason for history to be removed from the national curriculum is the “shame of colonisation”.  A particular shame for leaders, Claude Ake wrote and talked about this. The shame of being dominated effortlessly by fellow men of a lighter colour was a memory many could not embrace and there was nothing they could do about it. The shame of being colonised that was particularly strong immediately after Independence appears to have dissipated particularly in recent years. Keen observations, indicate it has not. The long-term consequences of slavery and colonisation are still evident in Nigeria, its perception within and without and its management of the state.

It is not too good to be wholly regarded as a “post-colonial state” especially when it looks as if the only good times the state had was when colonised and immediately after Independence. Can these facts also be hidden by not teaching history in schools?

History is seen by many as store of knowledge of things past that can be drawn upon to teach nations how to do [much] better now and in the future in handling their affairs. However, this approach to history this goes with the assumption that the government and leaders of today are willing to learn wisely. When post-colonial states become more successful economically and technologically than their colonisers it is desirable. The disaster of the Civil War and the shame of colonisation, among other things, should be great learning points for Nigeria today and in future.

If the ‘Owners of Nigeria’ are not willing to learn from history and simply hide from it, it is fair to conclude that history as a concept, subject or interest is far beyond capacities and necessities of Nigeria. The reflection on leaders is not good.

 

Grimot Nane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s